When The Division debuted on Lifetime in 2001, it was such a TV event that The New York Times paused to comment. In their full review of the show, the writer William McDonald praised the show for immediately asserting how different it was from the rest of the networks' traditional fare. He wrote of the pilot episode that served as The Division's premiere, "It's a shrewd way to introduce a police show on a cable channel that bills itself as 'Television for Women' with a baby shower."
In the opening scene of the show, we see a scene in a rowdy bar where the cast of The Division has gathered for a baby shower. We watch as baby shoes are unwrapped and cards are read with bursting sentiment. In a matter of seconds, that changes. A ruckus breaks out in the bar and all the women at the table spring to life - not to hide, but to defend, guns drawn.
The fact of the matter is that for all of TV's long, long history of crime drama, there had never been a show quite like The Division. The difference the show made had nothing to do with the type of crimes these policewomen solved, like so many shows do to distinguish themselves today. (See: Dick Wolf's most recently announced installment of Law & Order, focused on hate crimes.) Instead, the difference had to do with the show's dedication to its cast of characters, determined not to break out a star, but instead give equal air time to many distinct women, each navigating a high-intensity career as a homicide detective in her own way.
This notion held the promise of fascinating TV, but in the Times' review, McDonald failed to see the full potential, wishing for more storytelling and fewer narrative shifts. Instead, The Division proved over four seasons that it knew how to take its time developing these characters, and that all audiences had to do to draw a meaningful conclusion about these complex characters - the complicated Capt. Kate McCafferty (Bonnie Bedelia), the oftentimes rash inspector Jinny Extead (Nancy McKeon), the steady and stable C.D. (Tracey Needham) and all the other detectives the show introduced in its cascade of narratives - was decide to commit to learning all there was to know about these intriguing, strong women. It seems what McDonald overlooked what made The Division so perfect: The show intimately knew and respected Lifetime's target audience. These characters encouraged viewers to return the favor by living in this show, focused on dynamic women. The result: a TV show that attracted outside viewers for Lifetime because of its earnest, pioneering spirit.
In the 1970s there was Charlie's Angels, which put female agents in the spotlight, but spent less time with these characters outside of their work. Then in the 1980s, there was Cagney & Lacey, which McDonald points out, was a hit show on CBS about a pair of police partners who also happen to be BFFs. The Division expanded on this formula and became the first cop show to do so.
That's what made it worth it to so many viewers to keep on tuning in. The taste of narratives they got from each episode added up to greater depth of storytelling on The Division than other cop shows and the action of the show made sure it was plenty fun to solve the show's slowest-burning mystery: Who exactly are all these captivating female cops?
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